Bulgarian Squat vs. Dumbbell Lunge

Both moves work the legs, but which is better at building overall mass in the quads?

April 30, 2013

By Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS | Contributing Director of Strength and Conditioning

Photos of Marco Cardona

Bulgarian Squat

Often referred to as a one-leg squat, the Bulgarian is a bruiser, for sure. There’s a lot going on with this one, even before the exercise actually begins. You must be able to suspend your foot behind you on a stable surface and hold weight across your back at the same time. One of the best ways to do this is inside a power rack with the safety bars in place and a bench just outside, or by using a Smith machine that’ll naturally minimize some of the need to balance the weight. Practice either version with no weight to make sure your working leg is bent 90 degrees, your knee doesn’t pass your toes, and the bench behind you is at a perfect distance to support your nonworking leg.

Dumbbell Lunge

There may not be much explanation needed for this classic, but you can take this move to new heights — and depths. From parking lots, football fields and, of course, iron-filled gyms, the lunge is a multijoint exercise that targets your entire lower body including the quads, hams and glutes. Experienced bodybuilders use this move to not only add variety to their leg training but also to locate muscular imbalances and weaknesses that might go unrecognized when working both legs simultaneously. When adding the lunge to your repertoire, make sure you include squats, leg presses and hack squats for complete leg development.

Advantage: Bulgarian Squat

This one is a close call and might brew a good debate, but after all is said and done, the move that best targets each leg to produce more mass is the bulgarian squat. Yes, you can use more weight with the lunge, but the bulgarian’s constant tension on the working leg gives it the edge. The amount of work the front leg endures is far and above what’s required in the lunge. As you press through the floor to extend your leg, you don’t have the luxury of completely straightening it or allowing the entire body to absorb the load. Rather, the quad is on full alert from start to finish of each rep and never gets to relax. Even as you press up to the top, your quad is working as hard as it does at the bottom. Because of that, it’s important that you can unload the bar from your upper back at a moment’s notice. You don’t want to be stuck unable to rack the bar.